Winning the national championship doesn't change anything for the Stanford men's soccer team. The goals remain the same and that's to chase down another NCAA title.
Stanford opens the season ranked first in the nation, though UCLA was picked to win the Pac-12 Conference. It goes to show just how difficult it is to repeat.
Indiana is the last school to successfully defend its national title, in 2003-04 and 1998-99.
“We're excited to play as reigning champs,” Cardinal coach Jeremy Gunn said. “There's zero complacency and zero looking to the past.”
Last year's National College Player of the Year Jordan Morris turned pro, All-American Brandon Vincent was named an MLS all-star and key play-maker Eric Verso is playing in the USL.
Corey Baird and Verso each notched 13 assists for Stanford last season, becoming the first pair of Cardinal teammates to accomplish the feat since 1978. This year, Baird will be relied upon to lead Stanford's offensive.
He's not the only goal scorer. Also returning are Foster Langsdorf and Amir Bashti, the latter coming into his own down the stretch.
Goalkeeper Andrew Epstein, a second team All-Pac-12 pick last season, also returns following one of the best seasons ever by a Stanford goalie.
In all, the Cardinal returns nine players who made at least one start, including six ho appeared in all 23 games.
“We graduated an excellent group who you can never really replace,” Gunn said. “But we do have new people with new skill sets. All we care about is who is in that position and how well they play.”
Returners Tomas Hillard-Arce, Drew Skundrich and captain Brian Nana-Sinkam also started every every game last year. Sam Werner and Adam Mosharrafa also made starts for the Cardinal.
“There's a sense of confidence knowing we got there last year,” Nana-Sinkam said. “Everybody is rooted in the culture of doing things the right way. Part of that is tuning into practices and doing the little things.”
Nana-Sinkam did not record a point in 1,896 minutes last year but he was a major reason Stanford recorded eight shutouts and why Epstein had a 0.63 goals against average.
“He's a fantastic defender and exemplary character,” Gunn said of his team captain. “He represents great problems for the opposition.”
Baird was second on the team, to Morris, with 19 points.
“What's helpful is that all the returners knew what it took last year,” Baird said. “The big challenge is to repeat it.”
Langsdorf was second, to Morris, with seven goals last year. Bashti added four goals, Hilliard-Arce scored three times, Werner added a pair and Mosharrafa scored once. That's nearly half of Stanford's offensive production back.
“They understand the hard work it takes and have the belief that things are possible,” Gunn said. “These players know it can be done.”
Also back are senior midfielder Trevor Hyman, junior forward Bryce Marion, senior forward Adrian Alabi, sophomore defender Collin Liberty and junior goalkeeper Nico Corti.
The Cardinal has a solid core of redshirt freshman on hand, guys who may not have game experience yet but did practice with and against the likes of Morris and Vincent. They include defender Tanner Beason, midfielder Colin Hyatt and goalkeeper Charlie Furrer.
Menlo Park resident Marc Joshua leads a strong group of freshmen new to the program.
Jacobs, who attended the International High School of San Francisco, led Juventus in goals (17) last year.
“Marc creates time and space for himself in the middle and then ghosts into the box as a phenomenal attacking threat,” Gunn said.
Also new are midfielders Jared Gilbey, Kyle Casey, Quentin Chi and Derek Waldorf.
Meanwhile, Gunn isn't giving preseason polls much credence.
“It's nice to get the pat on the back and it helps creates excitement and generates interest,” he said. “Other than that, two weeks in, no one cares.”